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May 21, 2007

Not a good fortnight for David Cameron

Posted by Watlington

Not a good fortnight for David Cameron
Three weeks ago and Conservatives could not have been riding higher. The local election results represented a real triumph. Tory tails were clearly up. Yet for some unknown reason, the Conservatives have fallen into a few self-made elephant traps. First there was the Letwin speech: whilst a thoughtful speech - see Letwin is on to something, it was totally misunderstood by the media and commentariat. It was also ripped to shreds by Tony Blair in the Commons during Prime Minister's Questions. Second was the "PR" stay in the home of an Asian Family by Mr Cameron and his decision to retreat on Islamism, arguing that "Islamist" is not a good name to describe Islamic extremism. In the last week, we have had the Grammar School row. All at a time when Labour seems to be getting its act together and the party is uniting behind Gordon Brown.

The Grammar School Row
In all sections of the Conservative Party, there is a view that modernisation has its place, but there is no need as one senior Tory suggested "to throw the baby out with the bath water". Moreover, much of the anguish over Grammar schools came about because MPs (as shown at the 1922 Committee), Parliamentary Candidates (as shown following a private briefing of Parliamentary Candidates last week by David Willetts) and Activists (as shown by the reaction in the blogosphere), all felt that there had been no proper consultation. This is also a view felt by some members of the Shadow Cabinet.

But, as always, there is a subtext to this row. The Grammar school row is a catalyst for all the scepticism that has been building up for months, in some sections of the party about the nature and breadth of Cameroonism. Whilst many have been willing to bite their tongues as the poll lead widened and Cameron continued to make waves, there will always be a limit - and it is that limit which was reached last week. When you have MPs as diverse as Ian Taylor, Robert Key, Graham Brady and Michael Howard up in arms, as they say at NASA: "Houston, we have a problem".

Incidentally it is understood Michael Howard is also thought to think it a mistake that the Party is saying nothing about asylum and immigration - a key subject in voters minds, witness Margaret Hodge's recent intervention arguing that housing for the indigenous population must take priority. To Mr Cameron's credit, he has been willing to take his critics head on. But is he making a fatal mistake? Mr Cameron describes the opposition as part of a "right wing debating society". His harsher advisers call these critics "headbangers". In doing so, the Tory leadership fails to distinguish between reactionaries, of which there will aways be some (Edward Leigh et al) and those who have genuine concerns about the change in policy, whilst agreeing with the general thrust of Cameroonism in principle. By ignoring these concerns and classifying every critic as part of the reactionary right, Mr Cameron is creating resentment and storing up significant problems for the future.

Cameron needs a Tebbit - step forward David Davies MP
A significant reason for underestimating the party backlash to the Grammar school policy is that Mr Cameron has no one in his office who really understands the Conservative Party at large. The Leader's Office desperately needs a party troubleshooter who has an instinctive feel for all sections of the Conservative party. This person should be tasked with explaining the Cameron reforms to the party membership around the country. The individual must be someone who is trusted by the membership and seemingly on their side - a modern Norman Tebbit or John Prescott (in better days). To find such a character is of course difficult and it is doubtful whether there would be a queue of applicants. But perhaps Mr Cameron could look at some of the new intake of MPs - of whom there are plenty of right wingers - to take on this task. One such person could be David Davies, MP for Monmouth (no relation to the Shadow Home Secretary David Davis). Described as the new Norman Tebbit, Mr Davies has a knack of getting into the papers espousing law and order causes - he recently was the subject of a two page spread in the Daily Mail profiling his life as a Special Constable. Mr Davies is the kind of person who would be trusted by the membership and would be just the right person to be the membership's eyes and ears at Westminster.

Finally…. Don't blame all this on David Willetts
Some people in recent days have unkindly compared David Willetts to Keith Joseph – a brilliant thinker but hijacked by his Civil Servants when he was Education Secretary. In truth this would be somewhat unfair. Mr Willetts is a thoroughly decent man who has crafted conservative thinking over many years. His book on Civic Conservatism, is a must read for every Conservative. At least rather than running away or ignoring the opposition, Mr Willetts has had the sense to task the arguments head on and patiently debate with his critics. His response should be a model for all Conservatives to follow, whenever there is an issue which causes significant debate within the party.

To read more by Watlington, see Watlington.


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Comments

Butterfill MP would be an ideal 'Prescott' for the Conservative Party.

Posted by: TimberWolf at May 21, 2007 06:49 PM
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Willetts keeps referring to "kids", which is a real giveaway. The Conservatives are trying too hard.

Posted by: Little Black Sambo at May 21, 2007 09:04 PM
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I have just heard David Cameron on radio talking to John Humphreys. He failed to understand the questions. He tried to change the subject by going on about more women MPs which has nothing to do with grmmar schools, he thinks most people are jealous of his attending Eton, no way, I am not. He misled listerners by going on about selection at 11, many select at 14! Even in 1947
my grammar school brought in the top boys from the old secondary school at 13, two came up into my class, one a farm labourers son.
Yes the Tories neglected to build more grammar schools in18 years, but the evidence of the dreadful outcome of the comprehensive system was only just showing up.
Cameron was NOT ASKED----WHAT SORT OF GOVERNMENT BELIEVES THAT SELECTION BY INCOME IS MORE EQUITABLE THAN SELECTION BY ABILITY.
The tory party should be pushing more technical schools. And Mr
Cameron is acting like he is Charles the first. We have the power--
he wants our votes. Aspiration and hard work will bring the UK what it needs MORE NOBEL PRIZEWINNERS.

Posted by: DAVID VINTER at May 22, 2007 08:49 AM
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David Cameron could yet turn it all around. According to a recent article in The Economist (http://www.economist.com/world/international/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_JTTJSRG, which requires registration, or much of it quoted by a brave labour blogger in http://www.bloggers4labour.org/2007/05/education-vouchers.jsp) reviewing the progress of education vouchers world-wide, some of the most successful schemes have relied on parents, not schools, doing the choosing

"[In Sweden, a success story] The only real restrictions imposed on private schools were that they must run their admissions on a first-come-first-served basis and promise not to charge top-up fees (most American voucher schemes impose similar conditions)."

If David Cameron was to use his move on grammar schools to clear the ground for a best-practise voucher scheme he could have found his way to a policy that was equally popular with the public and unpalatable to Labour - it could be his very own right-to-buy.

Posted by: Francis Norton at May 22, 2007 02:20 PM
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David Cameron could yet turn it all around. According to a recent article in The Economist (http://www.economist.com/world/international/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_JTTJSRG, which requires registration, or much of it quoted by a brave labour blogger in http://www.bloggers4labour.org/2007/05/education-vouchers.jsp) reviewing the progress of education vouchers world-wide, some of the most successful schemes have relied on parents, not schools, doing the choosing

Posted by: Francis Norton at May 22, 2007 04:22 PM
•••
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